FYI: The following review may contain spoilers.
I did something this weekend that my partner-in-cinematic-crime just does not understand. I was running errands on Saturday and realized that I had reserved a Zipcar from campus for far longer than I needed it.
So what to do with my free time?
Why, see a movie, of course.
I could fit in a two to two-and-a-half hour movie with time to spare for grocery shopping. So I headed to the local AMC cineplex, walked up to the ticket desk, and took a good hard look at the movies starting in the next few minutes.
Sure, I had some preferences over what I wanted to see. But the God’s honest truth? I would have seen anything that fit into my limited time frame. Okay, anything that wasn’t a horror movie.
Luckily, one of the movies near the top of my To-See list was just about to start, and that’s how I saw Oz the Great and Powerful this weekend (review below this anecdotal story explaining how Kerry and I have very different philosophies about life that can be summarized through our relationships with the cinematic world).
This sort of haphazard, willy-nilly, what-have-you would drive (does drive) Kerry insane. She just doesn’t understand going to a theatre without a plan of what to see. If Movie A is sold out, she won’t go see Movie B or Movie C for the hell of it. (Trust me, it’s happened.) That’s the end of the adventure.
Me, though, I’m one of the “well, we’re already here” types. I get how sometimes you just want to see a movie, or do something, and let the specifics fall where they may.
Granted, sometimes letting the specifics fall where they may turns out biting you in the ass. Whatevs. It’s a learning experience.
Yeah, I kind of got bit in the ass with Oz the Great and Powerful. It wasn’t a big bite, but still.
When the news of this movie first broke, and then the info on casting was released, I was excited. I like James Franco generally, and I loved him (Oscar host experience aside) in 127 Hours, so hearing that he was to play the Wizard appealed to me. And the casting of Mila Kunis, Michelle Williams, and Rachel Weisz seemed smart—three talented women who don’t generally get as much appreciation as they should. I was excited to see how the movie would turn out.
And then I saw it.
A few things about this movie absolutely clicked. First, the genuine attempt to produce an homage to the beloved classic The Wizard of Oz. In that respect, I think the movie was a success. Certainly the technology behind the movie has advanced, and the movie relied heavily on CGI to produce its special effects. But the wondrous other-worldliness of the original Oz movie was present in Sam Raimi’s production as well. While color is no longer revolutionary to us as the use of Technicolor technology was to Victor Fleming’s 1939 audience, the bright and bursting color, the over-saturation of color in this movie helped to recreate that sense of awe that must have filled the hearts and minds of the very original Oz viewers.
Of course, Sam Raimi being Sam Raimi, he straddled the line between classy and campy for a good portion of the movie, but that’s what you get when you hire the guy behind the Evil Dead franchise and a whole she-bang of campy mid-90s television shows (i.e., Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Cleopatra 2525, and Xena: Warrior Princess). Some of the campy may have been caused by the fact that I saw the movie in plain old 2D, and some of the effects were clearly meant for the 3D audience.
Where Raimi excelled, as far as his homage through effect to the original Oz, was in the black and white introductory period. Like The Wizard of Oz, the first part of the movie, pre-Land of Oz, was entirely in black and white. [If you were in my theatre, some of the sweetness of the reference was lost due to the toddler behind me breathing on my neck and loudly asking every three seconds (I timed it) “when the color will come.”] But if you could block that out, or if you were in a toddler-free theatre, you instantly recognized what Raimi was doing, and you appreciated it.
And Michelle Williams, too, I believe, really gave a performance that recalled and honored the 1939 movie. Her scenes as Annie, the country farm girl in black and white, so echoed the performance of Judy Garland as Dorothy that I was taken aback. She gives off a sense of pure and unadulterated innocence with her soft, breathy voice, and delicately upturned face, staring up at James Franco with an expression of soft love. Later, in her performance of Glinda, she retains the amused and knowing smile of Billie Burke, who sees through to the good in all.
However, that is where my singing of praises must end. As far as the rest of the movie is concerned, I was fairly disappointed. Most of my criticism focuses on the acting of the other three leads. James Franco, for example. I spent the entire movie wanting to punch him in the face. Since the desire dissipated as the movie neared its ending, perhaps my reaction ought to be directed more toward his characterization and the script (and oh, I’ll get to that), but I’m not willing to let him off the hook too easily. He plays Oz as manipulative, certainly, but I believe he adds a certain element of smarm that just seemed out of place.
Rachel Weisz was just under-utilized in this movie. Again, perhaps that isn’t her fault, but given her lauded performance in, say, The Constant Gardener, her background performance here was unexpected. Certainly she did not have the largest part amongst the leads, but there was no rational reason for her to be so forgettable in this role. Unless, of course, she knew how the movie would turn out, and wanted everyone to forget she was even in it. Hmmm.
And finally, Mila Kunis. I love Mila Kunis. I thought she was the perfect combination of bitchy and loveable in That 70s Show. I love her as Meg in Family Guy. She made me laugh in Ted, Friends with Benefits, and Date Night. And I was in awe of her performance in 2010’s Black Swan. But in this movie, she was just laughably bad. She performed her character so one-dimensionally, that any sort of dialogue beyond what the weather in Oz was going to do that day seemed ridiculous. I spent two hours rolling my eyes at her.
Honestly, the script could have used either a few more (better) editors or a few less. I’m not sure if this movie suffered from having too many hands in the pot or too little editorial control over the drive of the film. Either way, it was mostly a disaster mitigated by just a few moments of success. Really, it was just kind of a mess.